Describing Spencer Hawes as being soft is, well, common (and maybe correct). But instead of brandishing him, I’ll go over what he does to receive this reputation, as well as what he can do better to shed it.
On offense, Hawes prefers to operate outside the paint instead of inside it. While they are players on completely different levels, Hawes compares to former Sixer Chris Webber, who operated primarily out of the high post and also had an affinity for horrible three point attempts. This is not always a bad thing – Hawes and C-Webb both have (had) good mid-range jumpers for bigs, which creates more room for the other players on the court. Theoretically, with the Sixers personnel, it’d be great. With players that need to get into the paint to score, the Sixers should need a guy like Hawes.
However, they need a low post player more. Elton Brand can do it sometimes, but for the most part he’s undersized and getting slower as he ages, which doesn’t bode well for post play. Brand also takes his fair share of outside shots – actually a higher percentage than Hawes. And he can also hit mid-range jumpers, on a more consistent basis than Hawes actually can. Hawes hit 40% of his mid-range shots, with Brand hitting 50%, according to StatsCube. Which is more a personnel issue than anything.
So here, I’m gifting Hawes with playing in the low post. This is a stark difference from what I’ve asked other players to do, which is mainly to be themselves. Hawes naturally drifts away from the low post, which makes this an imperfect fit. But unlike everyone else, his high post game isn’t always in the best interests of the team as well, imo. While his passing from the high post works in the sets the Sixers are running, he too often makes mistakes with his passing – he essentially just works as a cog to set up the rest of the play. Instead, I would use his size and touch around the rim in the low post, which must be played more physically than the high post area. I think he could make it work, too – he has good touch, even though he avoids contact, and rarely will he get blocked due to his being 7’1″. Backing someone down and attacking the basket with intensity will ultimately help the team more than anything else he could do – since Hawes is the only viable low post player we have.
I’m also going to ask he refrains from trying to face up the defense – nearly every time he turns it over. One memorable moment occurred in the second preseason game, where he tried facing up Javale McGee, turned the ball over because he brought it below his waist, fell over, and then tripped McGee as he was going down the other end of the floor.
Defensively, meanwhile, Hawes uses his length to bother opponents but too often relies on it – instead of moving his feet he instead extends his arms to the point of reaching out (which often results in a foul – and see the pic above to see what I mean). He won’t “body up” on his opponents often either. I don’t think, however, this is an issue of toughness – I think he’s just not an active defender. He’s also slow laterally, so it’s not like he’s going to move with the offensive players – he’s just going to try and extend his arms more. I would suggest he use his body more – while shot blockers are usually nullified to an extent by body contact, he will be better as a post defender, which the Sixers desperately need. I went into “sign Kwame Brown” mode for this reason – the Sixers lack any post defense. This can only happen if Hawes is willing to absorb contact – he needs to become a more intense player on both ends of the floor.
However, one thing from the preseason that I love is his defensive rebounding. It looks like that, so far, he’s done a wonderful job boxing out opponents and getting in position for defensive rebounds. The Sixers were noticeably worse without him on the floor in the rebounding department – if he keeps this up, he’s one step closer to decency.
If Spencer Hawes can pick up his intensity in all parts of the game (and not just rebounding), he can become a more than competent NBA starting center. If not, we can only expect much of the same inept play in the middle.